India’s performance at the just-concluded London Olympics has made me both happy and sad. Happy because our tally of six medals in the 2012 Games has been the best so far — two silver and four bronze. One can, if one wants to, take further comfort from the fact that it is double the number of medals India had won in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I am as elated as any other proud Indian at this achievement. Hence, my hearty congratulations to all the six medal winners in London — silver in shooting by Vijay Kumar; another silver in freestyle wrestling by Sushil Kumar; bronze in shooting by Gagan Narang; bronze in women’s boxing by MC Mary kom (the Manipurian mother who became the cynosure of the nation’s admiration by showing she is capable of winning even the gold); bronze in wrestling by Yogeshwar Dutt; and a bronze in women’s badminton singles by Saina Nehwal, the 22-year-old from Hyderabad who won the hearts of millions of Indians because of her talent, courage and determination. She showed great promise and certainly looks capable of challenging China’s monopoly in Badminton.
Along with my party President Shri Nitin Gadkari, my party colleague Dr. V.K. Malhotra and Union Sports Minister, Shri Ajay Maken, I had the proud privilege of greeting and honouring all these six award winners who had brought laurels for the country.
Along with these six who had distinguished themselves, the entire Indian sports contingent which had gone to London as also the coaches who had trained our boys and girls for the sports were all present at my Prithviraj Road residence for this short but impressive function.
As I said at the outset, I am also sad. A nation of 1.2 billion people, accounting for one-sixth of the global population, winning only six medals — and no gold this time, unlike the one gold Abhinav Bindra had won in Beijing — is a highly disconcerting fact. This meant that, of the total 962 medals in London, India could win a mere 0.06 percent of them. Indeed, in all the Olympic Games held so far, India has won only 26 medals. Compare this to the fact that the United States (population: 31.5 million) won 104 medals; China (which is now only slightly ahead of India in terms of population) won 88 medals; and even Britain (population: 62 million), bagged 65 medals, with 29 golds, greatly improving its tally in Beijing Olympics (47 medals, 19 of them gold).
My sadness grows more acute when I look at some other countries, much smaller than India, that ranked much higher in the medals tally.
South Korea, which lagged behind India in development until the 1960s, and has a population of only 50 million, won 28 medals, with 13 golds. Even North Korea, the world’s most isolated nation that is ruled by a dictatorial communist regime, won four golds in its overall tally of six medals.
After every Olympics, I make it a point to see the performance of Cuba, another small communist country (population: 11.2 million) that is living in a different kind of isolation. Its performance in sports has always been very impressive. This year also Cuba lived up to its reputation by winning 14 medals, five of them gold.
Last Wednesday (August 8 ) New Delhi’s Hindustan Times Page One Banner Headline was about India’s poor performance in Hockey at the World Olympics. The Headline read:
A NEW LOW FOR
PLAYED 5, LOST 5
The Banner was followed by a single column Box with caption “Bad to Worse” and beneath was this comparison:
Atlanta (U.S.A.) 1996: Finished 8th
London (U.K.) 2012: will play South Africa to avoid Bottom (12th) Finish
On Saturday, August 11, India played South Africa this last match to decide who out of the two would be 11th and who would be 12th. Both these teams had not won a single game in their earlier matches. In this last match India earned the dubious distinction of occupying the bottom place. India secured this by losing to South Africa 2-3.
India’s miserable show last week brought back to mind memories of my school days in Karachi. In Hockey those days, that is, in the nineteen thirties and forties, India was absolutely peerless. It was at the top of the world. At the St. Patrick’s High School where I studied we had two teachers who were in the Indian Hockey Team which played at the Olympics. .Those were the times of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, who captained the team on two occasions. A brilliant associate of his was Roop Singh.
In the Berlin Olympics held in 1936 with Dhyan Chand as Captain, India played five matches, won all five, scored a total of 38 goals, and conceded only one goal, that too in the Finals.
A summary of India’s performance in Hockey in this year’s Olympics was as follows :
India vs Japan 9-0
India vs Hungary 4-0
India vs USA 7-0
Semi Final: India vs France 10-0
Final: India vs Germany 8-1
The World Olympics are held every four years. But after 1936, because of the Second World War, the next Olympics were held in 1948. As in 1936, this time too, at the London Olympics in 1948, India won the Gold Medal.
Looking back at India’s record in the Olympics, since 1928 when Indian competed in Hockey for the first time under the captaincy of Jaipal Singh, our country has won gold in Hockey eight times – in Amsterdam 1928, in Los Angeles 1932, in Berlin 1936, in London 1948, in Helsinki 1952, and, in Melbourne 1956 (these six Olympics at a stretch) and later again at Tokyo 1964 and Moscow 1980.
And so considering what happened in 2012 in so far as Hockey is concerned all that one can exclaim is: “Where have we gone wrong? How can we change this situation?”
A disturbing question returns to agitate my mind: barring cricket, why is India a laggard in almost all other international sports competitions? I love cricket. My home frequently welcomes cricket stars, since they are friends of my cricket-loving son Jayant. However, like all other patriotic Indians, I keenly desire to see our Tricolour displayed proudly on the medals podium in more and more sports in international tournaments, especially in the greatest of them all — Olympics. Why isn’t this happening?
This question becomes more perplexing when we remind ourselves that India in 2012 is no longer economically as weak as it was some decades ago. Our country is now a major driver of the global economy. At least some parts of India have become impressively prosperous, and at least a section of our society has begun to enjoy the same material comforts as the affluent in rich countries in the world. Our middle class is expanding rapidly. India is now regarded as a global power in information technology. Bollywood is beginning to compete with Hollywood in gaining viewers across the world. Yet, sadly, all this is not adequately reflected in India’s performance in international sports.
I believe the time has come for a sustained and serious national debate, followed by necessary action at all levels, on how to make India a sports power in the world. I have a few thoughts to share on the subject, in the form of a six-point agenda.
A prerequisite for any nation to perform well in international sports is for that nation to first make sports a mass activity. India must launch a national mission to provide opportunities and facilities for sports to its entire population. Unless the bottom of India’s sports pyramid becomes broad and strong, it cannot send adequate number of sportspersons to higher levels of that pyramid who can compete successfully at international levels. In other words, expansion at the bottom is absolutely essential to achieve excellence at the top.
This calls for creation of sports facilities on a massive scale. Our housing, habitat and urban planning policies must have an in-built and mandatory provision for creating open spaces, playgrounds and sports amenities for all.
I think that our national policy must prioritise provision of sports facilities in schools and colleges. Sporting talent in India cannot blossom unless our children and youth begin to participate in sports in large numbers.
It is important to emphasise, again and again, that making sports a mass activity is also a prerequisite for building a healthy nation. To build a culture of fitness and health as a national movement, there is nothing more effective, more low-cost, and more widely accessible as Yoga. I must mention here the phenomenal contribution that Baba Ramdev has made to popularizing Yoga in recent years. Yoga and Pranayam should be encouraged everywhere, for every age-group.
Although I am a great fan of Indian cricket, I believe that it has now become necessary to remove the huge and costly asymmetry between cricket and other sports in mass consciousness and also in resource allocation. This requires a strong national-level intervention in the policy for corporate sponsorships, advertising, allocation of TV time, etc.
Lastly, let us remember that excellence in sports is closely linked to national pride. I have been repeatedly saying in most of my political speeches that we should resolve to make the 21st century India’s century. By this, I mean that India should become a world power in economy, education, science and technology, arts and culture and global diplomacy. It also means that India should rank high among the top nations in the Human Development Index, and lowest in the Global Corruption Index.
In the context of today’s blog, I would like to add an important criterion of the 21st century becoming India’s century : how soon can India become a global sports power also?
19 August, 2012